A Children’s Book Miscellany….

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If you know a child who loves the outdoors or a teacher who enthusiastically shares an appreciation for nature with her students, a new book of poetry may be the perfect gift. At $40.00, Sing a Song of Seasons is not an impulse buy, but it is an investment in beauty, both natural and written. With a poem for every day of the year, this is a book that should “live” in a central place. I’m tempted to make it a New Year’s Resolution and start each day with reading the poem of the day – rather than the headlines. It would also be a good way for teachers to begin the day with their students.

Sing a Song of Seasons, edited by Fiona Waters, includes all kinds of poems – funny and celebratory and reflective. Taken together, this book may will instill an appreciation of natural world at a time when we need to work together to protect it.

Here’s the poem for yesterday, November 11:

The Fog by F.R. McCreary

Slowly the fog,
Hunched-shouldered with a grey face,
Arms wide, advances,
Fingertips touching the way
Past the dark houses
And dark gardens of roses.
Up the short street from the harbour,
Slowly the fog,
Seeking, seeking;
Arms wide, shoulders hunched,
Searching, searching,
Out through the streets to the fields,
Slowly the fog-
A blind man hunting the moon.

Another book that celebrates the outdoors….

I ordered a copy of The Forest after seeing it on the 2018 New York Times list of the Best Illustrated Children’s Books. This book surprised me from the minute I opened the package. At 72 pages, it is not a traditional picture book. The illustrations by Violeta Lopiz and Valerio Vidali are vivid and spectacular, but I’m not sure who the audience is – maybe art students. The book is a journey through life in the form of the forest, but it’s the paper engineering that is most striking. The embossed pages and gatefolds make The Forest a fascinating piece of book making, but not an easy book to describe.

A book to look forward to….

Matthew Cordell, the author and illustrator of the Caldecott winning picture book, Wolf in the Snow, has a new project. Cordell is going to write and illustrate the authorized picture book biography of Fred Rogers. The book’s title will be….Hello, Neighbor!  A little bit of a wait – the book will be published in 2020.

Barnes and Noble News…

There’s been lots of speculation about the future of Barnes and Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the U.S. I’ve read about struggling stores, the revolving door of CEO’s, and their efforts to diversify by becoming a “lifestyle” store rather than a traditional bookstore. You can see the result of their move into toys and games by walking into any Barnes and Noble and trying to find books among the Funko Pop figures that, at least in the Hingham store, claim a lot of space. Yesterday I read that the British retail chain, W.H Smith, expressed interest in buying Barnes and Noble, but the deal fell through. Like many readers, I hope Barnes and Noble stays in business. It’s good for publishers and good for readers. I love Buttonwood, my local independent bookstore, but sometimes I enjoy getting a pile of magazines, ordering a mocha, and sitting in the cafe at Barnes and Noble. Print sales are rising and independent bookstores are succeeding. Barnes and Noble should be able to make it.

The picture at the top….

is a teacher at Inly reading a book to her students. It was one of those perfect moments that I had to capture…Happy Reading!

 

 

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Tommy Orange Visits Inly

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Tommy Orange, the author of the novel There There spoke at Inly last Thursday evening.

There There, longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for the Carnegie Medal is the debut novel by Orange, a member of the Cheyenne tribe. The novel took him six years to write, but it has made the author a new literary star. “Yes, Tommy Orange’s New Novel Is Really That Good” reads the title of the New York Times review of There There. Another New York Times article about Orange’s describes There There as a “new kind of American epic.”  Maureen Corrigan, reviewing the novel for Fresh Air, said:

There There is distinguished not only by Orange’s crackling style, but by its unusual subject. This is a novel about urban Indians, about native peoples who know, as he says, “the sound of the freeway better than [they] do rivers … the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than [they] do the smell of cedar or sage…”

The Inly program was a conversation between Tommy and Nina McLaughlin, a columnist for the Boston Globe whose first book, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter was published in 2015. Nina wrote the Globe’s review of There There which is linked here:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2018/06/14/what-indian/2GsJ8G2XHSo6YRYUZq72IL/story.html

The conversation was rich and meaningful, mostly because Tommy and Nina were natural and genuine. It truly felt like a conversation.

Nina began by asking Tommy about the explosive end to his novel. “I knew the end before I knew the beginning,” he told her. “I knew the characters’ lives would converge at a powwow.”

Talking about his polyphonic novel, Tommy described his writing process as “auditioning voices to see who felt convincing.” Over the six years it took him to write There There, Tommy estimates that he “tried 40 or 50 characters.”

Especially lovely was the way Tommy talked about novels, which he said “can do anything.” He was moved by A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and the work of Sylvia Plath. He described their work as having “sadness with levity.” Their writing, he said, “transcended their own sadness.”  Discussing his love of polyphonic novels, he mentioned, among others, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Nina also asked Tommy to talk about the many mirrors and reflections in There There. “Growing up,” he responded, “Native people don’t see themselves very often. We aren’t in sports or movies or television.  The mirror lets you see how you’re native.”

I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed many happy days at Inly, but this was one of the best. Tommy Orange radiates kindness and thoughtfulness from the second you meet him.  If you haven’t read There There yet, add it to your “to read” pile.

Happy Reading….

 

 

Book Fair, Book Buying, and Jarrett Krosoczka…

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On Friday, at 3:55 p.m., I rang up the final sale of Inly’s fall book fair, began to clean up, and then I noticed a stowaway…..

Hiding among the racks, I didn’t even know this student was in the library until it was quiet, and then it struck me that this was the perfect book fair scene: oblivious of the time, she was truly “somewhere else.”  There were lots of happy moments during the book fair. Some kids were overwhelmed by the choices….

Other kids enjoyed negotiating, like the two girls I heard planning to buy different books and share them. The best part of the book fair is seeing how excited the kids are about new books. We are lucky to be in a school with a rich reading culture that leads to enthusiastic conversations and lots of recommendations.  Another fair is scheduled for April!

On the topic of buying new books, I feel a bit squeamish. Sometimes I feel a bit ashamed about bringing too many new books into the house when there is a wonderful public library about two miles from my house. That feeling passes rather quickly though. I like owning the book I’m reading. I can loan them to friends or shelve them with books on the same topic, but truthfully, it’s the convenience I value. Library due dates (except for the Inly library where I have some flexibility) make me feel pressured. I bring a book home from the library, feel the clock ticking, and then a new topic might capture my interest. I like my books in the house, where I can see them, and know that the voices in the book are right here competing for attention or resting comfortably.

But earlier this week, scrolling through Instagram, I stumbled about this excerpt from an essay that appeared in today’s New York Times Book Review:

I recognized the writer as someone who Anne of Green Gables would refer to as a “kindred spirit!” The Japanese word – tsundoku – is lovely. I just read on the BBC News site that the word was first used in text in 1879, and that “the word does not carry any stigma in Japan.”  I’m happy to add tsundoko to my word bank.

The full essay by Kevin Mims, which I’m going to display over my “to be read” stack, is here:

In the spirit of embracing my book buying, here’s a picture of my most recent book purchases:

Yesterday I read Hey, Kiddo, Jarrett Krosoczka’s powerful new graphic novel about his childhood in Worcester. It is heartbreaking, honest, and absolutely unforgettable. Krosoczka’s best known for the Lunch Lady books, his series of graphic novels for young readers, but this memoir is for older readers. He was the child of a mother who suffered from addiction and a father he knows nothing about. Raised by his grandparents, Jarrett showed signs of artistic talent from an early age which gives him a chance to shine among his peers and to navigate his complex feelings about his family. Hey, Kiddo is one of the best books I’ve read for young adults. The pictures and text are equally compelling, and Jarrett’s story will help readers understand the impact of addiction on families, especially children.


Fall is here – lots of new books to read and buy!  Happy Reading….

Winnie-the-Pooh in Boston – and Two Notable New Books

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When Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring A Classic was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in early 2018, I was sorry to miss it. It was winter, and a trip to London was not in the plans, but I was desperate to see the exhibit and ordered the catalog as a beautiful – but not quite the same – substitution. Later, when I read that it was being shown at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I was thrilled.  In fact, I was quite possibly the first person to order member tickets the day they became available!

As much as I love A.A. Milne’s stories, it was the iconic drawings by E.H. Shepard that I most looked forward to seeing. I have admired Shepard’s work for many years. His drawings bring The Wind in the Willow’s characters to life – when I picture Mr. Toad in his fancy driving clothes or Ratty and Mole talking by the fireside, I am thinking of this:

The Winnie-the-Pooh stories are so deeply entwined with Shepard’s drawings that when most of us think of Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore, we are imagining the humorous, warm, and emotionally honest drawings by Ernest Shepard. Piglet could not be Piglet without his small frame next to Pooh’s cozy and round body.

 

The exhibit was lovely. We were in line at 9:30 for the 10:00 opening, and it was relatively quiet. As we left the museum, there was a sign announcing that tickets were no longer available for that day. If you plan to go, I strongly recommend consulting the MFA’s website for information first.  (https://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/winnie-the-pooh)

This fall’s new and notable books for children include two that are among the best in their categories – and books I will recommend regularly to kids and teachers:

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee is a picture book by one of the smartest and most creative people in the children’s book world.

I remember reading The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau, one of Agee’s early picture books for the first time and beginning to look for everything by him. Since then, I’ve been a big fan of all of his books, especially Milo’s Hat Trick and Life on Mars.  His new book is funny and intelligent – and timely. A small knight is determined to fix a wall that runs down the gutter of the book. He’s certain there are dangers on the other side of the wall: “The wall protects this side of the book….from the other side of the book.”  But it soon becomes clear there are dangers on his side of the wall of which he’s completely unaware.

There are lots of opportunities for discussion with this book. Younger kids will enjoy it, but older students might be encouraged to ask about perspectives and perceived dangers.

Last week I wrote about a picture book by Kallie George called Goodnight, Anne. The author was clearly inspired by Anne of Green Gables because she has also written the first installment of a new early chapter book series: Anne Arrives. The plot follows Anne’s story of arriving at Green Gables making it a lovely introduction to the classic novel. The illustrations by Abigail Halpin are beautiful and capture the spirit of L.M. Montgomery’s novel perfectly. This would be a lovely gift for a young reader who is ready for a new – and special – series.

Next week is the fall book fair so I’ll see lots of happy book shoppers in the week ahead. With the help of our dedicated volunteers, we set everything up on Friday. All is ready for Tuesday morning at 8:00:

 

Finally, a tribute to the classic picture book, Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, by the students in one of Inly’s Upper Elementary classrooms….

 

Happy Reading!

 

Grace Lin, Fred Rogers, Anne Frank, and a Little Bear…

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This past Friday was a gold star day – literally – when Grace Lin visited Inly.  She was there to talk about her beautiful new picture book, A Big Mooncake for Little Star, wearing a sweater full of stars in a library our students had decorated with shiny moons and stars. It was especially wonderful to see our students so excited to meet a favorite author. One of them made a sign to welcome her, one of her biggest fans introduced her, and she signed lots of books.

After talking with our younger students about her picture book, she talked with a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders who recently read her middle grade novel, Dumpling Days.

It was one of those special days in the Library and a wonderful way to begin a new year of reading.

Beyond the Mooncake….

On Friday, the Google banner was a tribute to Mr. Rogers on the 51st anniversary of the first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Most of our students have never seen an episode of Mr. Rogers, but there was a group of 3rd graders in the Library, and I called them over to watch Google’s short animated video.

I wondered if it would hold their attention. Here is what I saw:

Scrolling through Instagram last week, I saw this post from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I love what Anne’s father said about Anne attending a Montessori school:

There’s a new book on my “to recommend” list, especially as we get closer to the holidays and parents of young children ask me for gift ideas. Stories of the Night by Kitty Crowther is described as a “modern fairytale storybook,” and it is certainly magic. It looks like an old fashioned story book that you might be thrilled to discover in a used bookstore. But there’s also a freshness and brightness to it that makes me keep looking at it. Look at this drawing on the back cover. The colors are so interesting – that blue moon!

The premise is that Little Bear asks Mother Bear for three stories before going to sleep. Mother Bear obliges with three distinctive stories that are a bit quirky, but comforting. My favorite is the story about a man who goes swimming with his clothes on before he can sleep. You have to read it.

And finally – my favorite library picture from last week:

 

 

New Books, a City of Dreams, and Beliefs….

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I’m not proud of this, but sometimes I select new school library books to read the same way I did when I was in 6th grade at the Xenia, Ohio public library – a realistic fiction novel about a girl facing some kind of challenge in her family life. Those are the books I’m drawn to. I order a wide variety of books for our students, but I don’t always read the “adventure story” or the “dragon fantasy.” But when Susan Hood’s new novel, Lifeboat 12, came in, I decided it was time to read something different to recommend to students.

It was a good choice. Lifeboat 12 is the exciting – and true – story of a British boat carrying young evacuees during WWII, that is torpedoed by a German ship. Told from the point of view of thirteen-year-old boy named Ken, who leaves war-torn England for Canada, Hood’s novel in verse captures the excitement of the beginning of their passage on the City of Benares and the terror of the eight days Ken and some of his fellow passengers spent on a lifeboat with a limited supply of food and water. The fact that Ken’s adventure is based on his experiences will make this exciting novel more appealing to reluctant readers and fans of historical fiction.

Next, I read the new novel, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya. Marcus is a big boy – literally. He towers over his classmates and walks younger students home from school to protect them from bullies (for a small fee!). Marcus lives with his mom and younger brother, and although he was born in Puerto Rico, Marcus has not been there since he was two-years-old. After Marcus gets into some trouble at school, his mom decides to take him and his brother, who has Down syndrome, to Puerto Rico where, Marcus hopes, he will be able to reconnect with his father. This novel has a big heart. I loved Marcus from the first page.

Cartaya’s novel also made me want to try a sandwich called a Jibarito: “a fried plantain sandwich with garlic mayonnaise, tomato, onions…” In fact, there are many references to Puerto Rican culture in this story about a boy trying to make sense of his family’s history.

 

A City of Dreams

When my husband and I were in New York a few weeks ago, one of our priorities was to see the Bodys Isek Kingelez exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Kingelez was a Congolese sculptor who imagined and built colorful and whimsical cities. When looking at his sculptures, you can’t help but imagine what it would be like to live in Kingelez’s utopian fantasy land.

This I Believe

Inly’s middle school students are writing their annual This I Believe essays. Based on Edward R. Murrow’s 1950s radio show and the 2005 NPR revival, the goal is to encourage kids to think about what they believe and to respect the beliefs of others. The students are writing their own personal narratives around a statement of belief. To get the process started, we asked them to start brainstorming beliefs about simple things: pizza or burgers, Maine or the Cape. Here are pictures of the kids beginning the process:

 

 

Lastly, I was in Newport last week and visited Chateau Sur Mer, the first of the Newport mansions to be built in 1852. During our tour, these tiles around the fireplace caught my eye:

It turns out they have a children’s book connection. The tiles were designed by Walter Crane, the English artist best known for his illustrations in children’s nursery books.

The Library is getting busier every day. These boys look like they are trying to prevent the “Wild Thing” from participating in their conversation about Chris Van Dusen’s picture books:

My Favorite Books About….Friendship

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One of the best parts of a new school year is meeting new students. As I talk with them, I’m doing all of my “remembering names tricks” so the next time they visit the library, I can greet them. New students are wonderful. They change the social dynamic and bring fresh energy and experiences into their classrooms. The teachers are wonderful about integrating new kids into their rooms, but I’m sure the primary “work of the child” (to use a Montessori term) is to make friends. That work, learning how to interact with other kids, must take up most of their energy during these first few weeks.

Kids don’t want manuals about how to be a friend. They deserve stories about kids with real emotions, not didactic books about “what to say.”  The ten books listed below show the power of friendship:

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead (Amos is a reliable zookeeper who makes time to play chess with an elephant. When he gets a cold, his devoted friends visit Amos and care for him. This is one of the most perfect evocations of friendship in any book for children. A must-have in every child’s school or home library.)

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers (Everything Oliver Jeffers does is wonderful, but this one is my favorite. A penguin gets lost in quite dramatic fashion. Supposed to be on the South Pole, he ends up on a boy’s suburban doorstep. The boy finds a way – through storms and waves – to bring his new friend home.)

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel (Nearly 50 years since they appeared, Frog and Toad remain essential to any collection of stories about friends. My favorite story is “Ice Cream” which appears on page 30 of Frog and Toad All Year.)

Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems (Hands down, the most popular books in Inly’s Library, kids between the ages of 4 and 12 are happy to read them – multiple times!)

Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant (This series of easy-to-read chapter books is not as well known as other books on this list, but the Poppleton stories have a special kind of magic. Poppleton is a pig whose best friends are Hudson, a mouse, and Cherry Sue, a llama. Throughout all eight books, Rylant is making a case that loyal friends are the secret to a good life!)

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald (For a little older reader, My Two Blankets is a picture book about a girl named Cartwheel who is forced to leave her home and move to a safer place. To remind her of home, Cartwheel wraps herself in an imaginary “blanket” of memories. After meeting a new girl in a park, she creates a new “blanket” weaving together her old and new lives.)

Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo (A series of short chapter books, Bink & Gollie are like child versions of Elephant and Piggie. They are opposites in appearance and temperament, but loyal to one another and always ready for a new adventure. Kids love these books because of Bink & Gollie’s funny and energetic dialogue, but also because the cartoon-style drawings make them almost like graphic novels.)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (I’m including three middle grade novels at the end of this list because they are central to a list of books about friendship. The story of a captive gorilla, Ivan, and the sacrifice he makes for Ruby, a baby elephant, is guaranteed to both break – and fill – your heart.)

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (Sometimes a parent will ask me to recommend a book that will encourage empathy in their child. White’s book is a master class on empathy, friendship, and of course, writing. “Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”)

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, especially Chapter 5, “Dulce Domum” There are so many excellent books about being a good friend that to include a book written in 1908 may seem an odd choice, but Chapter 5 of Grahame’s classic novel is one of the most beautiful passage about what it means to be a friend ever written. “Dulce Domum” takes place in December, and it opens with Rat and Mole walking through a village where people are celebrating Christmas. Mole starts to realize that he’s near the home he has left to be near the river with Rat, and he feels homesick: “He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither. Home! That was what they meant, those daft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all in one way!”  Rat, realizing his friend’s sadness, changes course and they return to Mole’s little house where a cozy scene awaits. It’s the perfect chapter to read on a winter evening.)

Links of interest:

It’s Sunday morning, and I just finished reading today’s New York Times. There are three things I thought worth sharing:

An excellent essay about the importance of public libraries:

A request for good children’s books focused on American history at a time of, in the words of someone looking for a baby gift: “I’d love to give the new baby a few children’s books that illuminate our pre-Trump democracy: how it came into being, who the founding fathers were….”

And for parents of very young children, a good round-up of new books for new people in the world:

Happy Reading!